Jesus said, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). Thus when anyone, by true repentance and faith, comes to Christ and is washed of water by the Word (Ephesians 5:26) and renewed of the Holy Ghost (Titus 3:5), we say he is born again, regenerated, converted, or saved.
The question before us is this: Can someone thus saved lose that gift and again be lost, or is the person who is thus saved, always saved? Upon the answer to this question hangs the eternal destiny of many souls. For if, as some claim, a person can by sin and disobedience lose the salvation that God has wrought in his heart, then many will be lost forever who are trusting in that first experience to save them, regardless of how they live or die! If, on the other hand, it is impossible to lose that salvation, it ought to be heralded abroad for the consolation and assurance of all who believe. Especially so, since some hesitate to come to Christ for fear that they will not be able to continue faithful!
But what does the Bible say? In John 10:27-29, we read, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand."
Two truths immediately stand out. First, the sheep hear and follow Christ (presently and continuously), not have heard and have followed! Second, God is so great that no one can remove such sheep from His hand. So we see that no wolf or thief can harm those sheep. However, Jesus did not say that we could not jump out of His hand, or leave the fold, by ceasing to hear and follow, thereby losing our right to the Father's protection!
We have many like promises, exceedingly great and precious, assuring us of God's power and ability to keep us unto the end, making us partakers of His divine nature, and delivering us from the corruption of this present world (2 Peter 1:3, 4, 11; Hebrews 7:25; 1 John 4:4; 5:4; Jude 24). In these we rejoice, and praise God for the assurance that neither man, nor the world, nor the devil himself will be able to overcome us as we abide in Jesus Christ.
However, we dare not make such verses contradict their setting and other Scripture passages that clearly teach us that we must continue faithfully to the end, or we will lose our salvation.
The Word tells us:
"If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed" (John 8:31).
"Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates [rejected by God; excluded from salvation and lost in sin]?" (2 Corinthians 13:5).
"But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall" (2 Peter 1:9, 10). It seems quite clear that by not doing "these things," mentioned in verses 5-7, one can fall.
"For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live" (Romans 8:13). Some say that once we are born, we cannot be unborn, but we see that we can die!
"Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door" (James 5:9).
The Book of Hebrews, written to Christians (holy brethren—3:1) is full of warnings on this point, which would be a foolish waste of space if there is no possibility or danger of losing salvation! And these warnings are in the plainest speech possible. Notice just a few: "Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip" (Hebrews 2:1).
"Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God" (Hebrews 3:12). See also verses 13 and 14.
"Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching" (Hebrews 10:25).
"For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?" (Hebrews 10:24-29).
Impossible to fall away? Hardly! Will those who do fall away always return before they die? Hardly! In fact, the above passage tells us that they can get to the point where they cannot return! Read also Hebrews 4:11; 6:4-8; 11:15; 12:14-17 and 25.
Let us take heed!
"For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning" (2 Peter 2:20).
It sounds as though they lose more than just the present joy of their salvation! Further, some would say that they were not saved in the first place, but Peter says, "after they have escaped... through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." How could language be clearer?
Although some who backslide and live in sin for a time do return, yet the Bible gives us many examples of those who did not.
1. First Corinthians 10:1-12, tells us that the Israelites were all delivered from Egypt and share spiritual blessings, but some were overthrown. "Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (verse 12).
2. Saul of the Old Testament was a man whom God had given another heart (1 Samuel 10:9). But at the end of his life, God had left him and was his enemy (1 Samuel 28:16).
3. In the New Testament Jesus said, "No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:62).
4. Also, we have the example of Judas, one of the Twelve, of whom Peter said that he "by transgression fell" (Acts 1:25). Strange, indeed, if it is impossible to fall away! Judas fell from his relationship with Christ by his transgression.
5. In 2 Peter 2:15, we are told of some "which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray. "These clearly were once following the right way, but left it, even though God was able to keep them, had they continued in His grace. Nor were they just temporarily straying but still saved, for we read further that "these are wells without water, clouds that are carried with a tempest; to whom the mist of darkness is reserved for ever" (verse 17).
Let us now consider the parables of Jesus, which some twist and pervert.
1. Matthew 13:24-30 and 36-43 gives the parable of the good seed and the tares, which Jesus said should grow together until the harvest. Some people tell us that tares can be developed into wheat (converted), but that wheat cannot degenerate into tares (apostatize). This is contrary to other Scripture passages, as we have seen, and also to the setting here. This parable is given to teach the truth that evil and good shall both continue in the world until God separates them, and not to teach the possibility or the impossibility of falling away. Further, if spiritual wheat cannot change into tares, how did Adam and Eve, created pure and holy, receive a fallen nature and pass it on to their descendants?
2. In Matthew 13:47-50, Jesus says, "The kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away."
Some have said that just as good fish never change into crayfish and salamanders, so Christians never change into non-Christians. If this were true, the same parable would also teach us the impossibility of converting sinners into saints, since in nature neither kind of fish ever changes into the other. But notice in verse 49 that Jesus says this is an explanation of how it will be at the end of the world. It will be too late then for any changing either way, of course!
3. Notice the parable in Matthew 25:1-13 concerning the ten virgins who were awaiting the bridegroom. The lamps of the five foolish virgins had gone out, implying that they had oil and their lamps were burning, but by failure to watch, they failed to enter in with the bridegroom. Jesus' conclusion was, "Watch therefore..."
4. Consider also the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:1-8 and 18-23. Some received the Word, and it took root, but due to such things as persecution, trouble, cares, riches, and pleasures, they did not remain faithful, and lost the eternal reward.
From these Scripture passages and others, we can come to no other conclusion than this: We are eternally secure, so long as we abide in the vine; but if any man abide not in the vine, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered, and cast into the fire and burned (John 15:6). We cannot expect to disobey God's Word, live in sin, serve the flesh, and still be saved, no matter how glorious and real our past experience may have been.
To the prophet of old, God put it like this: "When I shall say to the righteous, that he shall surely live; if he trust to his own righteousness and commit iniquity, all his righteousness shall not be remembered; but for his iniquity that he hath committed, he shall die for it. Again, when I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; if he turn from his sin, and do that which is lawful and right... he shall surely live, he shall not die" (Ezekiel 33:13-15).
"But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved" (Matthew 24:13).
Related Bible References
"Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils" (1 Timothy 4:1).
"Now therefore fear the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and truth: and put away the gods which our fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the LORD. And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.... If ye forsake the LORD, and serve strange gods, then he will turn and do you hurt, and consume you, after that he hath done you good" (Joshua 24:14, 15, 20).
"When a righteous man turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and dieth in them; for his iniquity that he hath done shall he die" (Ezekiel 18:26).
"When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation" (Matthew 12:43-45).
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples" (John 15:1-8).
"And the LORD said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book" (Exodus 32:33).
"He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels" (Revelation 3:5).
"And the destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners shall be together, and they that forsake the LORD shall be consumed" (Isaiah 1:28).
"The LORD is with you, while ye be with him; and if ye seek him, he will be found of you; but if ye forsake him, he will forsake you" (2 Chronicles 15:2).
"Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3).
"Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3).
"Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).
"But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name" (John 1:12).
"For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:23).
"For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Romans 10:13).
"Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me" (John 14:6).
"Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 10:32, 33).
"For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame" (Hebrews 6:4-6).
"Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shall be cut off" (Romans 11:22).
"But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed" (James 1:14).
"And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?" (1 Peter 4:18).
"The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).
"Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them" (Hebrews 7:25).
"Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen" (Jude 24, 25).